Potentially good news for as many as 94% of potential 2010 i3 applicants (and for all those groups who decided not to put together a $30 million program in a period of a couple of months): the president’s 2011 budget request includes $500 million for the Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation program. If approved by Congress, that line item will fund another round of potentially massive i3 projects.

At the Denver i3 pre-application workshop, Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Innovation and Improvement, Jim Shelton, stated very clearly that all funds for i3 will be disbursed prior to September 30, 2010. Shelton’s statement was in response to a question about how the funding would be allocated over the three to five years of the proposed projects.

As noted in a previous post, the Department stands by its intention to award up to 5 scale-up grants, up to 100 scale-up grants, and up to 100 development grants even though funding that many awards at the anticipated average award level (not the max) would require $2.25 billion–far exceeding the $643.5 million allocated for the program in 2010.

It’s possible that in developing the final announcement, the Department made a decision to allow for more awards than current funding could support, knowing that the 2011 request was in the pipeline. Thus, if the 2011 budget request is approved, they could make enough awards to disburse the current allocation for Year 1 spending and then use future budget allocations for future years.

This approach is risky given the uncertain budget climate, but it does follow the Department’s usual pattern of allocating major program awards on a 3-5 year cycle (e.g., TRIO awards). But unlike those other major programs, the i3 announcement doesn’t include any language about funding in subsequent years being contingent on suitable progress.

If they do decide to fund subsequent years through new budget allocations rather than giving a single lump-sum award as promised to date, that’s bad news for anyone hoping to apply for an i3 next year. My guess is that not even Jim Shelton knows which approach they plan to take, and the decision won’t be made till they know something for sure on the budget.

Tomorrow the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is scheduled to testify on the full Education budget request before the Senate Labor/HHS/Education/etc. Appropriations Subcommittee. One of my senators is on the subcommitte…perhaps he’d ask the Secretary to elaborate on the i3 plans? Yeah, probably not.